On Saturday night, we decided we would try to get Eli sleeping in his crib again, since he’s been sleeping in his Rock N Play for several weeks due to sinus/ear congestion. I laid him down and he freaked out. I picked him up, soothed him, and laid him back down. And he freaked out again. I eventually gave up and put him in his Rock N Play, where he continued to freak out, apparently not so much from the sleeping location, but from separation anxiety. And after an hour of fighting, he finally whined himself to sleep alone and my heart broke into a million pieces.
It turns out that he’s at the perfect age for separation anxiety and clearly it is just no fun. So we decided to see if we could make it a thousand times worse the next day.
We made plans to have lunch with my family on Sunday since my dad, step-mom and grandma wanted to come down for a visit. We had planned to go to the soup dumpling place, which is pretty much our favorite restaurant, but the wait was too long, so we went to this other place that is sort of meh, but nearby, since everyone was hungry.
After looking over the menu about 10 times and finding nothing that looked terribly appealing, I got a salad that was half cabbage and vinegar and half a blue cheese salad. And it was delicious. Such a good balance of flavors. And you’d think that by age 29 I’d know to ask if there’s eggs in the salad dressing I’m ordering since I’ve had this allergy for as long as I can remember and the only times I tend to slip up is with salads, and well, you’d be wrong. I did not ask. And so about 20 minutes after lunch, things got unpleasant.
Before the allergy reared it’s ugly head, we decided to run to the Gap to return a shirt from Chanukah, that didn’t fit my husband. As we were waiting in line to get a belt with the refund ticket, things went from bad to worse and I needed to rush to the restroom (sorry, a bit of this story revolves around the bathroom). I told my husband I was going to find the nearest one and I’d text him where it was since we weren’t really familiar with that mall. I left Eli, asleep, in the stroller, where we had been, about two feet from my husband, just next to the checkstand, thinking that obviously he’d look up and realize I hadn’t taken the baby since I didn’t want to take him to the bathroom with me.
Roughly 15 minutes later, I stepped out of the restroom and saw my husband, but no baby. I immediately assumed he was playing a joke on me, as he is wont to do. He finds it pretty hilarious to try to freak me out because I obviously need help with my anxiety. I thought that the baby was probably right around the corner he was standing at.
But this time, he was not playing a joke. After I asked him where the baby was and he asked me where the baby was, we realized what had happened. I took off in a sprint back to the Gap, which was 4 or 5 stores away.
The whole time I was running, I just felt like screaming. In the past 8 months, I have come up with about a million ways my child could be harmed, could die, but I never thought it would be from our carelessness. And as I dashed from the bathroom to the Gap, I just kept having visions of my child not being there. Of someone having taken him.
It was the longest few moments of my life.
I finally got through the door and there he was, in his stroller, awake but fine, right where we left him. The people at the register had realized that we had abandoned our baby and called mall security, who had not yet arrived. The Gap workers apparently went back and watched the security video where I walked out and then my husband walked out and neither of us with our baby. We waited for mall security, but eventually they told us we could go, without ever seeing them (which, was not terribly comforting, but none of this really was).
We got to the car and I just couldn’t stop shaking my head at us. I know I laughed a little, but I think it was just so that I didn’t have to face what had just happened. What could have happened. Because behind the head shaking and laughing, I was shaken. We left our child unattended in a store for 15 minutes. My child who had such severe separation anxiety the night before that we couldn’t even leave his side for an hour, was left alone in a store in public.
I don’t blame my husband anymore than I blame myself. We were careless. We messed up. And we were so incredibly lucky that nothing bad happened as a result. That the people at the Gap were on top of things, that they noticed what had happened, watched the tape and knew who we were and didn’t let him go with anyone else. It’s possible that on any other day, things wouldn’t have worked out how they did and we know how fortunate we are. That night we braced for a major bedtime struggle and instead he went to sleep without a fuss and slept 6 hours before waking up to eat. Which is better than he has slept in weeks.
I hope that some day this will just be a funny story that we tell our son about how we cured his separation anxiety at the Gap. Until then, I will continue to try to pretend like it never happened because my anxious heart cannot take it.